Wednesday, July 18, 2007

America’s forgotten war: Afghanistan

The focus of the Bush administration almost exclusively on the war in Iraq means the conflict in Afghanistan is being neglected. Following the September 11th attacks by al-Qaeda in 2001, NATO invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government that had hosted al-Qaeda forces. Taliban and al-Qaeda forces fled across the border of Pakistan months later and have since waged a guerrilla war as they have become stronger and bolder.

However, if the Bush administration isn’t paying attention, our allies are. A report by a committee of members from the British House of Commons has concluded that the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is two battalions short of what is needed. Isaf, the NATO forces responsible for prosecution of the war, currently has almost 37,000 troops in Afghanistan, but the committee said a far larger force, backed by increased development aid, was needed to stabilize the country.

The report, of course, represents the British perspective but it’s all applicable to the U.S. effort. This is the BBC summary of the report:
With an accumulation of detail, the defence select committee paints a sorry picture - muddled strategy, shirking allies, a lack of helicopters and, stuck in the middle, the servicemen and women who have to make the whole thing work.

Here then are the committee's conclusions, decoded:

1. There are too few troops on the ground to win.

If the mission is to succeed, says the committee, it will require a commitment of size and strength greater than the international community is "willing to acknowledge, let alone to make."

2. If we are not exactly losing, we are not winning either.

The committee said: "Violence is increasing and spreading to the relatively peaceful Kabul and the northern provinces."

3. Too many Afghan civilians are being killed.

The committee said: "Civilian casualties undermine support for (the Nato force) Isaf and the Afghan government and fuel the insurgency, further endangering our troops."

4. There are still not enough British helicopters to do the job.

"UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity."

5. Some of our Nato allies are leaving us in the lurch.

"The reluctance of some Nato countries to provide troops for the Isaf mission in Afghanistan is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."

6. You can't fight the Taleban and opium at the same time.

The coalition's strategy lacks "clarity and coherence". "Uncertainty among Afghans about Isaf's role in poppy eradication puts UK forces at risk."

7. The Afghan security forces are a disappointment - some useless, some corrupt, some actually working against us.

"Police failure and corruption alienate support for the government of Afghanistan and add to grievances which fuel the insurgency." Even the Afghan army "are some way off operating independently".

8. So the exit strategy has problems, as in Iraq.

"We recommend that the government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009."

9. The media war isn't going well, either.

"The Taleban is ahead in the information campaign.
The government (must) more effectively the presentation of Isaf's
objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are
The American reliance on air power to combat the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces is simply a symptom of the shortage of boots on the ground. The aerial bombings have resulted in a high level of civilian casualties that may have the unintended consequence of turning the local population against the very forces that liberated them from the Taliban.

If the Bush administration wants to prevent Afghanistan from turning into the unwinnable mess we are witnessing in Iraq and a resurgence of al-Qaeda that would represent then they need to start paying attention now.

1 comment:

Robin Edgar said...

The focus of the Sinkford administration almost exclusively on the war in Iraq means the conflict in Soviet Canuckistan is being neglected. . . ;-)